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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Encounter with young Ugandans: the blood of martyrs flows in your veins

Vatican City, 29 November 2015 (VIS) – Yesterday afternoon the Pope met with the young people of Uganda at the Kololo airstrip, a former airport near Kampala which is currently used for major events, and which is able to hold around a hundred thousand people. The young people had followed the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis a few hours previously at the Catholic Namugongo shrine via the maxi screens installed in the area. The civil authorities responsible for education and sport were also present in Kololo along with, in a special area, 200 young deaf people, refugees, and chaplains for youth pastoral ministry. On the stage there were another fifty young people, a couple from each diocese in the country and a group of orphans.

The Pope set aside his prepared discourse, which we reproduce below, preferring instead to converse informally with those present after listening to the testimony of two young people, Emmanuel Odokonyero and Winnie Nansumba, who told of their difficult experiences, from sickness and depression to recruitment and witnessing the torture and murder of their friends.

“As I listened to Winnie and Emmanuel's testimonies, I asked myself a question: can a negative experience have a purpose in life? Yes! … Many of us here today have had negative experiences. There is always the possibility of opening up a horizon, of opening it up with the strength of Jesus. … Because Jesus is the Lord. Jesus can do anything. And Jesus suffered the most negative experience in history: He was insulted, denied and murdered. And Jesus, through the power of God, rose again. He can do the same for each one of us, with every negative experience. This is why Jesus is the Lord.

“I imagine, and together we can all imagine Emmanuel's suffering, when he saw his companions tortured, when he saw his companions murdered. But Emmanuel was brave. … He risked everything, he had faith in Jesus and he escaped. And here he is today, fourteen years later, qualified in management. There is always a way! Our life is like a seed, that must die in order to live again; and at times this means dying physically, like Emmanuel's companions. To die as Charles Lwanga and the martyrs of Uganda died. But through this death there is a life, there is life for all. If I transform a negative into a positive, I am triumphant. But this can be done only with the grace of Jesus. … Are you willing to transform in life all those negative things into positive things? Are you willing to transform war into peace? Be conscious that you are a people of martyrs. The blood of the martyrs flows in your veins! This is why you have your faith and life. And this faith and life is so beautiful, that it is called the 'pearl of Africa'”.

“If you believe that Jesus can change your life, ask Him for His help. This is prayer. … Pray to Jesus, because He is the Saviour. Never cease praying. Prayer is the most powerful weapon a young person has. Jesus loves you. … So, open the door to your heart and let Him enter. Let Jesus enter into your life. And when Jesus enters your life, He will help you fight, to fight against all problems. … To fight against depression, to fight against AIDS. Ask for help to overcome these situations, and always to fight. Fight with desire and with prayer”.

“The third thing I would like to say … We are all in the Church, we all belong to the Church. … And the Church has a mother. Mary! … Pray to Mary! … When a child falls and hurts himself, he cries and looks for his mother. When we have a problem, the best thing we can do is to go to where our Mother is. To pray to Mary, to pray to our Mother”.

“Three things”, he concluded: “The first: overcome difficulties. The second: transform the negative into positive. And the third: prayer. Pray to Jesus, Who is capable of everything. Jesus, Who enters into our heart and changes our life. Jesus, Who came to save me and who gave His life for me. Let us pray to Jesus, because He is the only Lord. And since in the Church we are not orphans, we have a Mother, let us pray to our Mother”.

The following is the Holy Father's prepared discourse:

“Dear Young Friends,

I am happy to be here and to share these moments with you. I greet my brother bishops and the civil authorities present, and I thank Bishop Paul Ssemogerere for his words of welcome. The testimonies of Winnie and Emmanuel confirm my impression that the Church in Uganda is alive with young people who want a better future. Today, if you will allow me, I want to confirm you in your faith, encourage you in your love, and in a special way, strengthen you in your hope.

Christian hope is not simply optimism; it is much more. It is rooted in the new life we have received in Jesus Christ. St. Paul tells us that hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love was poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit at our baptism. This hope enables us to trust in Christ’s promises, to trust in the power of His love, His forgiveness, His friendship. That love opens the door to new life. Whenever you experience a problem, a setback, a failure, you must anchor your heart in that love, for it has the power to turn death into life and to banish every evil.

So this afternoon I would invite you, first of all, to pray for this gift to grow within you, and for the grace to become messengers of hope. There are so many people around us who experience deep anxiety and even despair. Jesus lifts these clouds, if we allow Him to.

I would also like to share with you a few thoughts about some of the obstacles which you may encounter on our journey of hope. All of you want a better future, employment, health and prosperity. This is good. You want to share your gifts, your aspirations and your enthusiasm with others, for the good of the nation and of the Church. This too is very good. But when you see poverty, when you experience lack of opportunity, when you experience failure in your lives, sometimes a feeling of despair can grow. You can be tempted to lose hope.

Have you ever seen a little child who stops in front of a dirty puddle on the path ahead of him? A puddle he cannot leap over or go around? He may try but then he stumbles and gets soaked. Then, after many attempts, he calls out to his father, who takes his hand and swings him over to the other side. We are like that child. Life presents us with many dirty puddles. But we don’t have to overcome all those problems and hurdles on our own. God is there to take our hand, if only we call on him.

What I am saying is that all of us have to be like that little child, even the Pope! For it is only when we are small and humble that we are not afraid to call out to our Father. If you have experienced his help, you know what I am speaking about. We need to learn to put our hope in him, knowing that he is always there for us. He gives us confidence and courage. But – and this is important – it would be wrong not to share this beautiful experience with others. It would be wrong for us not to become messengers of hope for others.

There is one particular puddle which can be frightening to young people who want to grow in their friendship with Christ. It is the fear of failing in our commitment to love, and above all, failing in that great and lofty ideal which is Christian marriage. You may be afraid of failing to be a good wife and mother, failing to be a good husband and father. If you are looking at that puddle, you may even see your weaknesses and fears reflected back to you. Please, don’t give in to them! Sometimes these fears come from the devil who does not want you to be happy. No! Call out to God, extend your hearts to him and he will lift you in his arms and show you how to love. I ask young couples in particular to trust that God wants to bless their love and their lives with his grace in the sacrament of marriage. God’s gift of love is at the heart of Christian marriage, not the costly parties which often obscure the deep spiritual meaning of this day of joyful celebration with family and friends.

Finally, one puddle that we all have to face is the fear of being different, of going against the grain in a society which puts increasing pressure on us to embrace models of gratification and consumption alien to the deepest values of African culture. Think about it! What would the Uganda martyrs say about the misuse of our modern means of communication, where young people are exposed to images and distorted views of sexuality that degrade human dignity, leading to sadness and emptiness? What would be the Uganda martyrs’ reaction to the growth of greed and corruption in our midst? Surely they would appeal to you to be model Christians, confident that your love of Christ, your fidelity to the Gospel, and your wise use of your God-given gifts can only enrich, purify and elevate the life of this country. They continue to show you the way. Do not be afraid to let the light of your faith shine in your families, your schools and your places of work. Do not be afraid to enter into dialogue humbly with others who may see things differently.

Dear young friends, when I look at your faces I am filled with hope: hope for you, hope for your country, and hope for the Church. I ask you to pray that the hope which you have received from the Holy Spirit will continue to inspire your efforts to grow in wisdom, generosity and goodness. Don’t forget to be messengers of that hope! And don’t forget that God will help you to cross whatever puddles you meet along the way!

Hope in Christ and he will enable you to find true happiness. And if you find it hard to pray, if you find it hard to hope, do not be afraid to turn to Mary, for she is our Mother, the Mother of Hope. Finally, please, do not forget to pray for me! God bless you all!”.

In the Nalukolongo House of Charity: do not close your doors to the cry of the poor

Vatican City, 29 November 2015 (VIS) – Yesterday, following his encounter with the young people of Uganda, the Pope transferred to the Nalukolongo House of Charity, founded in 1978 by Cardinal Emmanuel Kikwanuka Nsubunga (1914-1990) and entrusted to the Good Samaritan Sisters, the congregation he founded, which currently cares for around one hundred poor people of any religion or age, from infancy to extreme old age.

Nalukolongo is a place which, as Francis recalled in his brief address to the guests in the institution and the thirty women religious who take care of them, “has always been associated with the Church’s outreach to the poor, the handicapped, the sick. I think particularly of the great and fruitful work carried out with those people affected by AIDS. Here, in early times, slave children were ransomed and women received religious instruction. I greet the Good Samaritan Sisters who carry on this fine tradition, and I thank them for their years of quiet and joyful service in this apostolate. And here, Jesus is present here, because he said that he would always be present among the poor, the sick, convicts, the destitute, those who suffer. Jesus is here”.

“I also greet the representatives of the many other apostolic groups who serve the needs of our brothers and sisters in Uganda. Above all, I greet the residents of this home and others like it, and all who benefit from these works of Christian charity. For this is a home. Here you can find love and care; here you can feel the presence of Jesus, our brother, who loves each of us with God’s own love”.

“Today, from this Home, I appeal to all parishes and communities in Uganda – and the rest of Africa – not to forget the poor, not to forget the poor! The Gospel commands us to go out to the peripheries of society, and to find Christ in the suffering and those in need. The Lord tells us, in no uncertain terms, that is what he will judge us on! How sad it is when our societies allow the elderly to be rejected or neglected! How wrong it is when the young are exploited by the modern-day slavery of human trafficking! If we look closely at the world around us, it seems that, in many places, selfishness and indifference are spreading. How many of our brothers and sisters are victims of today’s throwaway culture, which breeds contempt above all towards the unborn, the young and the elderly!”.

“As Christians, we cannot simply stand by, stand by watching what is happening, without doing anything. Something must change! Our families need to become ever more evident signs of God’s patient and merciful love, not only for our children and elders, but for all those in need. Our parishes must not close their doors, or their ears, to the cry of the poor. This is the royal road of Christian discipleship. In this way we bear witness to the Lord who came not to be served, but to serve. In this way we show that people count more than things, that who we are is more important than what we possess. For in those whom we serve, Christ daily reveals himself and prepares the welcome which we hope one day to receive in his eternal kingdom”.

“Dear friends, by simple gestures, by simple prayerful actions which honour Christ in the least of his brothers and sisters, we can bring the power of his love into our world, and truly change it. I thank you once more for your generosity and love. I will remember you always in my prayers and I ask you, please, to pray for me. I commend all of you to the loving protection of Mary, our Mother, and I give you my blessing. Omukama abakuume (God protect you!)”.

The Pope meets the clergy of Uganda: maintain memory and continue to bear witness

Vatican City, 29 November 2015 (VIS) The Pope's day ended with an encounter with the priests, men and women religious, and seminarians in the cathedral of Kampala, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Beforehand the Holy Father met with the bishops of Uganda, around thirty in number, including bishops emeritus, in the archbishop's residence near the cathedral.

Upon arrival he was greeted by the bishop responsible for consecrated life, John Baptist Kaggwa, to whom he handed the discourse he had prepared for the occasion, and addressed some extemporaneous remarks in Spanish to those present, apologising for nt doing so in English.

“There are three things I want to say”, Francis began. “First, in the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses reminds his people: 'Do not forget'. He repeats it several times throughout the book: 'Do not forget'. Do not forget all that God has done for the people. The first thing I want to say is: ask for the grace of memory. As I said to the young, the blood of the Catholics of Uganda is mixed the blood of martyrs. Do not lose the memory of this seed, so in this way you will continue to grow. The main enemy of memory is forgetfulness, but it is not the most dangerous. The most dangerous enemy of memory is getting used to inheriting the goods of our fathers. The Church in Uganda should never grow accustomed to viewing her martyrs as a distant memory. Martyr means witness. The Church in Uganda, to be faithful to this memory, must continue to be a witness. You should not 'live off the interest'. Past glories have been the beginning, but you must build future glories too. And this is the task that the Church entrusts to you: to bear witness, like the martyrs who gave their lives for the Gospel”.

“In order to be witnesses, we need faithfulness. Fidelity to memory, fidelity to our vocation, fidelity to apostolic zeal. Faithfulness means following the way of holiness. It means doing what previous witnesses did: being missionaries. Perhaps here in Uganda there are dioceses that have many priests and dioceses that have few. Faithfulness means suggesting to the bishop that you go to another diocese in need of missionaries. And this is not easy. Faithfulness means perseverance in your vocation. Here I wish to thank the Sisters of the House of Mercy in a special way for the example of faithfulness they give: fidelity to the poor, the sick and the needy, because Christ is there. Uganda has been irrigated by the blood of martyrs and witnesses. Today it is necessary to continue to irrigate it, and to welcome new challenges, new witnesses and new missions. Otherwise, you will lose the great wealth you have, and the 'pearl of Africa' will end up preserved in a museum, because this is how the devil attacks , little by little. I am speaking not only to priests, but also to the religious. But I wish to say this in a special way to priests, with regard to the problem of mission: may priests in dioceses where the clergy is well-represented offer themselves to diocese with fewer clergy, so Uganda can continue to be missionary”.

“Memory, which means fidelity; and fidelity, which is only possible with the prayer. If a religious, a nun or a priest stops praying or prays rarely, because he or she has a lot of work, then he or she has already started to lose memory, which means losing faithfulness. Prayer also means humiliation: the humiliation of going regularly to the confessor, to tell him your sins. You can not limp with both legs. We men and women religious, priests can not lead a double life. If you are a sinner, if you are a sinner, ask forgiveness. But not to hide a lack of fidelity. Do not close memory away in the cupboard”.

“Memory, new challenges, faithfulness to memory, and prayer. Prayer always begins with recognition that we are sinners. With these three pillars the “pearl of Africa” will continue to be a pearl, and not just a phrase we find in the dictionary. May the martyrs, who gave strength to this Church, help you to move forward in memory, fidelity and prayer. And please, I ask you not to forget to pray for me”.

Finally, Pope Francis invited those present to pray the Hail Mary together.

The following is the discourse prepared by the Holy Father for his encounter with the clergy.

“Dear Brother Priests, Religious and Seminarians,

I am happy to be with you, and I thank you for your cordial welcome. I especially thank the speakers for bearing witness to your hopes and concerns, and, above all, the joy which inspires you in your service to God’s people in Uganda.

I am pleased, too, that our meeting takes place on the eve of the First Sunday of Advent, a season which invites us to look to new beginnings. This Advent we are also preparing to cross the threshold of the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy which I have called for the whole Church.

As we approach the Jubilee of Mercy, I would ask you two questions. First: who are you, as priests or future priests, and as consecrated persons? In one sense, the answer is an easy one: surely you are men and women whose lives have been shaped by a 'personal encounter with Jesus Christ'. Jesus has touched your hearts, called you by name, and asked you to follow him with an undivided heart in the service of his holy people.

The Church in Uganda has been blessed, in its short yet venerable history, with a great cloud of witnesses – lay faithful, catechists, priests and religious – who forsook everything for the love of Jesus: homes, families, and, in the case of the martyrs, their own lives. In your own lives, whether in the priestly ministry or in your religious consecration, you are called to carry on this great legacy, above all with quiet acts of humble service. Jesus wants to use you to touch the hearts of yet other people: he wants to use your mouths to proclaim his saving word, your arms to embrace the poor whom he loves, your hands to build up communities of authentic missionary disciples. May we never forget that our 'yes' to Jesus is a 'yes' to his people. Our doors, the doors of our churches, but above all the doors of our hearts, must constantly be open to God’s people, our people. For that is who we are.

A second question I would ask you tonight is: What more are you called to do in living your specific vocation? Because there is always more that we can do, another mile to be walked on our journey.

God’s people, indeed all people, yearn for new life, forgiveness and peace. Sadly, there are many troubling situations in our world for which we must pray, beginning with realities closest to us. I pray especially for the beloved people of Burundi, that the Lord may awaken in their leaders and in society as a whole a commitment to dialogue and cooperation, reconciliation and peace. If we are to accompany those who suffer, then like the light passing through the stained glass windows of this Cathedral, we must let God’s power and healing pass through us. We must first let the waves of his mercy flow over us, purify us, and refresh us, so that we can bring that mercy to others, especially those on the peripheries.

All of us know well how difficult this can be. There is so much work to be done. At the same time, modern life also offers so many distractions which can dull our consciences, dissipate our zeal, and even lure us into that 'spiritual worldliness' which eats away at the foundations of the Christian life. The work of conversion – that conversion which is the heart of the Gospel of Jesus – must be carried out each day, in the battle to recognise and overcome those habits and ways of thinking which can fuel spiritual complacency. We need to examine our consciences, as individuals and as communities.

As I mentioned, we are entering the season of Advent, which is a time of new beginnings. In the Church we like to say that Africa is the continent of hope, and with good reason. The Church in these lands is blessed with an abundant harvest of religious vocations. This evening I would offer a special word of encouragement to the young seminarians and religious present. The Lord’s call is a source of joy and a summons to serve. Jesus tells us that 'it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks'. May the fire of the Holy Spirit purify your hearts, so that you can be joyful and convincing witnesses to the hope of the Gospel. You have a beautiful word to speak! May you always speak it, above all, by the integrity and conviction of your lives.

Dear brothers and sisters, my visit to Uganda is brief, and today was a very long day! But I consider our meeting tonight to be the crowning of this beautiful day when I was able to go as a pilgrim to the Shrine of the Uganda Martyrs at Namugongo, and to meet with the many young people who are the future of the nation and our Church. Truly I leave Africa with great hope in the harvest of grace which God is preparing in your midst! I ask all of you to pray for an outpouring of apostolic zeal, for joyful perseverance in the calling you have received, and, above all, for the gift of a pure heart ever open to the needs of all our brothers and sisters. In this way the Church in Uganda will truly prove worthy of its glorious heritage and face the challenges of the future with sure hope in Christ’s promises. I will remember all of you in my prayers, and I ask you, please, to pray for me!”.

The Pope arrives in the Central African Republic as a pilgrim of peace and an apostle of hope

Vatican City, 29 November 2015 (VIS) – This morning, at 9.15 local time (7.15 in Rome), the Holy Father left Uganda to embark on the final phase of his eleventh apostolic trip, in the Central African Republic, reaching the capital Bangui at 10 am local time, the same as in Rome. The Pope was received by the Head of State of the Transition of the Central African Republic, Catherine Samba-Panza, who is also the deputy president of the Association of African Women Jurists. The Head of State, mayor of the capital during the 2012- 2013 armed conflict, was elected as interim president to govern the country during the phase of transition between civil war and the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, scheduled to take place in December.

From the airport the Pope proceeded to the Palais de la Renaissance, where after meeting with the family of the president in private, he encountered the ruling class and diplomatic corps accredited to the country, to whom he expressed his sympathy and spiritual closeness to all Central Africans. The bishop of Rome also greeted the representatives of international organisations whose work evokes “the ideal of solidarity and cooperation which needs to be cultivated between peoples and nations”.

“As the Central African Republic progressively moves, in spite of difficulties, towards the normalisation of its social and political life, I come to this land for the first time, following my predecessor St. John Paul II. I come as a pilgrim of peace and an apostle of hope. For this reason, I express my appreciation of the efforts made by the different national and international authorities, beginning with Madam Interim Head of State, to guide the country to this point. It is my fervent wish that the various national consultations to be held in coming weeks will enable the country to embark serenely on new chapter of its history”.

“To brighten the horizon, there is the motto of the Central African Republic, which translates the hope of pioneers and the dream of the founding fathers: 'Unity-Dignity-Labour'. Today, more than ever, this trilogy expresses the aspirations of each Central African. Consequently, it is a sure compass for the authorities called to guide the destiny of the country. Unity, dignity, labour! Three very significant words, each of which represents as much a building project as a unending programme, something to be ceaselessly crafted”.

“First, unity. This, we know, is a cardinal value for the harmony of peoples. It is to be lived and built up on the basis of the marvellous diversity of our environment, avoiding the temptation of fear of others, of the unfamiliar, of what is not part of our ethnic group, our political views or our religious confession. Unity, on the contrary, calls for creating and promoting a synthesis of the richness which each person has to offer. Unity in diversity is a constant challenge, one which demands creativity, generosity, self-sacrifice and respect for others”.

Then, dignity. This moral value is rightly synonymous with the honesty, loyalty, graciousness and honour which characterise men and women conscious of their rights and duties, and which lead them to mutual respect. Each person has dignity. I was interested to learn that Central Africa is the country of the 'Zo kwe zo', the country where everybody is somebody. Everything must be done to protect the status and dignity of the human person. Those who have the means to enjoy a decent life, rather than being concerned with privileges, must seek to help those poorer than themselves to attain dignified living conditions, particularly through the development of their human, cultural, economic and social potential. Consequently, access to education and to health care, the fight against malnutrition and efforts to ensure decent housing for everyone must be at the forefront of a development concerned for human dignity. In effect, our human dignity is expressed by our working for the dignity of our fellow man”.

“Finally, labour. It is by working that you are able to improve the lives of your families. St. Paul tells us that 'children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children'. The work of parents expresses their love for their children. And you again, Central Africans, can improve this marvellous land by wisely exploiting its many resources. Your country is located in a region considered to be one of the two lungs of mankind on account of its exceptionally rich biodiversity. In this regard, echoing my cncyclical 'Laudato Si’', I would like particularly to draw the attention of everyone, citizens and national leaders, international partners and multinational societies, to their grave responsibility in making use of environmental resources, in development decisions and projects which in any way affect the entire planet. The work of building a prosperous society must be a cooperative effort. The wisdom of your people has long understood this truth, as seen in the proverb: 'The ants are little, but since they are so many, they can bring their hoard home'”.

“It is no doubt superfluous to underline the capital importance of upright conduct and administration on the part of public authorities. They must be the first to embody consistently the values of unity, dignity and labour, serving as models for their compatriots”.

“The history of the evangelisation of this land and the socio-political history of this country attest to the commitment of the Church in promoting the values of unity, dignity and labour. In recalling the pioneers of evangelisation in the Central African Republic, I greet my brother bishops, who now carry on this work. With them, I express once more the readiness of the local Church to contribute even more to the promotion of the common good, particularly by working for peace and reconciliation. I do not doubt that the Central African authorities, present and future, will work tirelessly to ensure that the Church enjoys favourable conditions for the fulfilment of her spiritual mission. In this way she will be able to contribute increasingly to 'promoting the good of every man and of the whole man', to use the felicitous expression of my predecessor, Blessed Paul VI, who fifty years ago was the first Pope of modern times to come to Africa, to encourage and confirm the continent in goodness at the dawn of a new age”.

“For my part, I express my appreciation for the efforts made by the international community, represented here by the Diplomatic Corps and the members of the various Missions of the International Organisations. I heartily encourage them to continue along the path of solidarity, in the hope that their commitment, together with the activity of the Central African authorities, will help the country to advance, especially in the areas of reconciliation, disarmament, peacekeeping, health care and the cultivation of a sound administration at all levels”.

“To conclude, I would like to express once more my joy to visit this marvellous country, located in the heart of Africa, home to a people profoundly religious and blessed with so such natural and cultural richness. Here I see a country filled with God’s gifts! May the Central African people, its leaders and its partners, always appreciate the value of these gifts by working ceaselessly for unity, human dignity and a peace based on justice. May God bless you all! Thank you”.

After his meeting with the country's leaders, the Holy Father travelled by popemobile to the refugee camp in the parish of St. Sauveur, where he was welcomed by the children who live there and greeted by a woman residing there. The Pope greeted all present and addressed the following words to them: “We must work and pray to do everything possible for peace, but peace without love, without friendship, without tolerance and without forgiveness, is not possible. Each one of us must do something. I wish peace upon all of you and for all Central Africans, a great peace among you; that you may live in peace regardless of ethnic group, culture, religion or social status. Peace to all, as we are all brothers and sisters. I would like us all to say together that we are all brothers and sisters, and therefore we want peace. I bring you the Lord's blessing”.

This afternoon, after lunching with the bishops of the Central African Republic at the apostolic nunciature, he will visit the faculty of theology in Bangui, where he will pronounce a discourse before the country's evangelical communities.
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